Produced in 1953, the Submariner was first unveiled in 1954 at The Basel Watch Fair. The model comes in Oystersteel, white & yellow gold, and two-tone metals with date and no date variants. Made famous by James Bond films, this iconic sports watch has a 40mm case size and functions as a dive watch. The suggested retail price starts at $7,900 as of 2020. To view our full list of models available visit our used Rolex watches for sale page.
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One of the most recognizable faces in the Rolex catalog, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner made its debut at the Basel Swiss Watch Fair in 1954 with the launch of reference numbers 6200, 6204, and 6205. Built for durability and their resistance to water and corrosion, the Submariner is part of a line of sports watches designed by Rolex specifically for the diving community.
When you look at the original versions of the Rolex Submariner – those gloriously pared-back references that are the blueprint of dive watch DNA – you can't help but wonder why so many brands thought they could improve on the design. When compared to the 66 years’ worth of imitations and derivatives that followed, the timepiece looks close to godly. Yes, there have been hundreds of truly excellent dive watches that followed in the footsteps of this popular model; however, virtually every modern dive watch was (in some way or another) influenced by the brands iconic dive watch.
This model is a benchmark that will forever loom over the particular corner of our industry it calls home. And its shadow, cast long in the minds of those who dare take up arms against it, is as comforting as it is threatening. The Sub can be relied upon and has a proven track-record of more than half a century. It is a cultural touchstone from which all subsequent dive watches draw their power, and is arguably the watch that took the concept of a luxury tool watch and made it mainstream.
The Submariner and its subsequent legacy has also transformed how the industry (and the world beyond) approaches dive watches. Although these mechanical companions were originally conceived as tools, they have long since crossed over into the world of luxury fashion and are now seen as internationally-recognized status symbols. This means that the watch is coveted and worn by many individuals who have never come within ten meters of a wetsuit, let alone countenanced actual submersion beneath the waves.
While this has been known to draw the ire of true divers and marine aficionados (especially because of the effect this widespread adoration has had on the price of vintage references), it has resulted in a very diverse product offering from a variety of brands brands that wish to capitalize on the mainstream fascination with the deep. So let's jump in and find out exactly why this particular watch has been the world's top dive watch since it was first unveiled in the 1950s.
While the overall design of the Rolex Submariner has changed slightly over the years, there are still vital components that have remained unchanged.
To learn more about the history of the Rolex Submariner, how to best care for your Submariner, and other fun facts about this iconic dive watch, you can visit our watch resources page.
Rene P. Jeanneret was a Rolex director, keen amateur diver, and the man that instigated the creation of the Rolex Submariner. He encouraged his company to make a watch that could function as a diving tool, and the timing could not have been more perfect. During the 1950s, interest in the natural world intensified perhaps, in part, to aid the healing process following the wanton human destruction of World War II. More and more research was being conducted in the world’s oceans, and the advent of SCUBA diving was in full swing.
When the Submariner was first released in 1953, water-resistant automatic wristwatches were still in their relative infancy. 22 years earlier in 1931, Rolex had released the Oyster Perpetual model – a self-winding ("perpetual") follow-up to the earth-shattering 1926 release of the Oyster case. The first reference, the 6204, was water-resistant down to 100 meters, which was remarkable for the time. Two further references (the 6205 and the slightly thicker 6200) were also announced in 1953, with all three available for public purchase by 1955.
To underpin the more commercial model's pedigree, the brand created a concept dive watch in September 1953. This unique design (which would heavily influence the first Deep-Sea Special seven years later in 1960) was strapped to the outside of Swiss Oceanographer Auguste Piccard's submersible (the Bathyscaphe) and dived down to 3,131.8 meters, before returning to the surface unaffected by its adventure. This added further weight to the brands name and gave the collection an esteemed footing from which to dominate the market.
A real storm of interest was generated by the extreme testing to which the company submitted their newest timepiece and other, specially-created diving instruments designed more for the sake of research than public consumption. Several previously unseen feats were communicated to the public including these new watches surviving at least 132 separate dives of between 12 and 60 meters over 5 months.
Making this accomplishment even more impressive was the fact that many of these dives were conducted with the crown pulled out to the time-setting position. No sign of water ingress occurred during any of these dives. When other brands were tested under the same conditions, this was not the case. This proved the superiority of the Rolex Submariner, and did wonders for its international reputation. To double down on these claims, the original Rolex Submariner watches were attached to a cord and lowered to 120 meters below the sea. Although this was a full 20 meters beyond the depth rating of the watches, no signs of damage were recorded.
A huge amount of credit must fall at the threads of Rolex's Twinlock (and later Triplock) crown system, which was revolutionary at the time and remains an unquestioned market leader in the field of crown technology. The Twinlock crown was a huge upgrade for the already-famous Oyster case, adding a pair of rubber gaskets to the crown itself, as well as to the crown tube. This provided a watertight seal even when the crown was left unscrewed (as witnessed during the dive tests). When screwed down, the Twinlock crown system was incredibly secure.
As impressive as these endeavors may have been, the collection didn't filter into the public consciousness until it popped up on the wrist of everyone's favorite spy, James Bond. Sean Connery was seen sporting the reference 6538 (which belonged to director Albert Broccoli) during Dr. No in 1962.
The 1960s proved to be a seminal decade for design. With the debut of highly regarded references such as the 5512 (1959), and 5513 (1962), the iconic crown guards made their first appearance and earned their stripes. These protective flares on the right-hand side of the case accompanied an increased case diameter of 40mm.
1966 saw the release of reference 1680, which was the first to feature a date window and the now-iconic Cyclops magnification lens. Following the release of the ref. 1680, the Submariner design varied very little over the following decades, with more tweaks being made inside the case and to the materials used for the case itself than to the overall aesthetic of the watch.
The Twinlock crown system remained a feature of the collection until 1977 when it was replaced by the Triplock upgrade that had first appeared on the Sea-Dweller dive watch in 1970. The presence of the Triplock is indicated by three dots beneath the coronet logo on the winding crown (as opposed to two dots for the twinlock).
In 1979, sapphire crystals replaced the acrylic crystals used on the earlier models for added scratch resistance and durability. This new material upgrade enabled commercial Rolex Submariners to reach depths of 300 meters for the first time - a significant increase from the previously-listed 200 meter limit.
Amazingly, thanks to an irksome patent held by Blancpain, it was not until 1981 that one was fitted with the now-expected unidirectional rotating bezel. This vastly improved the functionality of the timepiece, and helped prevent the bezel from accidentally getting knocked out of place while underwater.
In addition to the various solid gold and two-tone steel and gold pieces, all modern watches in the line are made from 904L stainless steel, favored over the previously-employed 316L stainless steel for its better resistance to corrosion and ability to hold a higher, and more luxurious shine when polished.
In 2008, the appearance of the model changed drastically. The aluminum bezels of old were usurped by modern, ceramic alternatives. Although Cerachrom (as Rolex called the material) vastly improved the scratch resistance of the bezel and immeasurably improved the material's resistance to fading, there was a certain degree of warmth and charm that many collectors prefer, which was lost with this latest update. Additionally, the lugs of the 2008 design suddenly bulked up. The older versions of the watch have noticeably slimmer lugs, and despite retaining the same 40mm case diameter, the thicker lugs and crown guars greatly transform the watch’s silhouette and increase its presence on the wrist.
The same year, they started using Chromalight luminous material on the Deepsea Sea-Dweller. The positive response to the new, blue-hued luminant saw it quickly applied to other Rolex professional models, further improving the watch's functionality in its intended environment.
Modern Submariner watches are powered by either the 3135 (date) or 3130 (no date) movement, which boast the easily-identifiable red reversing wheels and the brand's in-house hairspring alloy, Parachrom. The blue Parachrom hairspring is highly resistant to magnetic fields and external shocks, making it the perfect regulating organ material in a watch designed to go anywhere, and do anything, while on the wrist of the world's most fearless adventurers.